For a school jazz band or orchestra, they know they’ve “made it” when they have secured a coveted spot on MidAmerica Productions’ Ensemble Spotlight Series in New York’s Carnegie Hall. However, a new sense of pride takes over when they’ve been invited back.
The Redmond High School (RHS) jazz band and string orchestra have been invited to return to the series on April 21 as part of MidAmerica’s 36th annual concert season.
Over the past eight years, RHS’s orchestra and jazz students have combined to create the Redmond Studio Jazz Orchestra. This is the fourth Carnegie performance for the orchestra, and the jazz band’s second.
Orchestra director Paula C. Ferguson and band director Andrew Robertson will share the podium for the performance.
For the jazz band students, this will be their first time playing at Carnegie Hall, as the groups travel to New York every three years. And it’s a lot more than just playing music. The roughly 20-student band meets during zero period, meaning class starts every morning at 6:30 a.m.
Most of the students have been playing an instrument since late elementary school. Noah Barr, a junior alto saxophone player, comes from a long line of musicians as his three older siblings also participated in the music programs at RHS. He said he was inspired to join the band in seventh grade and has enjoyed it since.
“The more tired you are, the more you like jazz,” he said with a laugh. “But jazz is really great — I think it’s more expressive and it’s like a creative outlet for me.”
Rafael de Ocampo, a junior trumpet player, said everyone in the group is excited to play at Carnegie Hall even though many feel anxious about the performance.
“We’re all super excited,” he said. “But I think we’re also kind of nervous about filling the shoes of the groups that went before us…like how will we fill the space? How will we measure [up]?”
Emma Johnson, a junior tenor saxophone player, agreed.
“Practicing takes a lot of work and dedication and it’s sometimes hard to find the time — much less the desire — to practice but we’re always working to get better,” she said.
However, the students said they’re most looking forward to being there and playing the music they love.
“There’s just nothing like playing it,” Barr said.
“With any festival or competition, it’s always just great to meet other people who love playing the same music you do,” de Ocampo said.
The opportunity to play at Carnegie Hall isn’t just rewarding for the students, but the directors as well.
“One of our participants in 2016 perfectly summed up the reason I continue to bring students to experience performing on this historic stage,” Ferguson said in a release. “[The student said] ‘This is where every note had a lasting effect on the audience as well as the performers themselves…the experience was a little bit overwhelming. When the performance ended, I knew that it was totally worth the hard work and hours of practice.’”
For Robertson, he said there’s nothing like seeing the faces of his students as they walk onto the stage for the first time.
“It’s like almost slow motion. You see them realize where they are…they’re walking on the same stage where famous musicians going back to the ’30s and ’40s once walked, they’re standing on the same stage as Duke Ellington and Count Basie and you just see that look of awe,” he said.